Your point of view | NCE readers on learning, energy storage and building materials


Learnings: history repeats itself?

Diploma apprenticeships (inside track, last month) are just reinventing the wheel. When I started my career in civil engineering in the 1960s, I did so through what was then called “work-study”. This was paid sponsorship to undertake a degree course alternating with periods with the sponsoring employer in design and construction. The result at the end of such a contract was an experienced graduate, already possessing a working knowledge of the industry and giving better value to future employers.

At the time, these courses were almost exclusively offered by polytechnics, since the “real universities” of the time seemed to regard such a split approach to learning as inferior to their full-time, three-year offerings. We note in the examples quoted that with the exception of Warwick, the establishments mentioned were themselves former polys and can therefore benefit from the advantages of such courses. Perhaps some lessons still need to be learned in academic settings?

For students, sponsorship removes many early career and employment uncertainties, combined with the fact that earning a degree on a paycheck avoids lingering student loan debt. Let’s hope that such initiatives can reappear on a large enough scale to recruit and train enough engineers of tomorrow.

Richard Lambert (F), [email protected]

I read with interest the “new path” offered by degree apprenticeships in the profession and wondered what went wrong in the interval since the days of the alternation of the 1960s and 1970s? I can see that the new learnings are available for a wider range of academic abilities, which is to be commended.

At the time, I was recruited as a trainee civil engineer in year six by the Motorways Department of Norfolk County Council (NCC) on a four-year work-study course. This involved six months (two terms) on a specialist degree course each year and six months touring the various relevant NCC departments that employed licensed engineers. This work with CNC included working with the regional office on bridges, traffic, highways and major projects, all of which were done in-house at the time. Tuition fees were paid through a means-tested education grant and a salary was paid while at the workplace. After the four years, there was no guarantee of a graduate position unless a position became available.

What the article doesn’t mention is the link between new learning and ICE membership? The main incentive of the qualifying diploma dual course was that if successful it granted an exemption from ICE parts 1 and 2, leaving part 3 (site work and a design if not not completed and the professional exam) to do which, if one was industrious, could lead to charter within two years of graduation.

Peter Holliday (F), [email protected]

For some time, I wanted to express my disappointment with the civil engineering apprenticeship that I undertook at the beginning of my career.

I undertook an apprenticeship with a consulting engineer in Edinburgh for four years with a starting salary for the first year of £1 a month. At that time, we were the first not to pay the employer for a contract of engagement. During the first two years, I was taught almost nothing about civil engineering; I colored prints for an architect at the office; was string boy in many measures of farmers field crops; not given the responsibility to operate a level for more than a year, then only once or twice. I was never shown how to operate a theodolite. Even though I was getting £1 a month, I was paying customers £20/day, which was a lot of money in the 1960s.

After two years I asked to leave and joined the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board as an apprentice at £450 a year. What a difference in salary and a very nice engineering department. But there was always the same situation regarding professional development.

In short, no curriculum was followed to match hands-on learning alongside evening classes four nights a week, studying for an HNC. The first three years of these classes were totally focused on mechanical engineering, only the fourth year had mentions in civil engineering.

My message here to the industry today is to ensure that all apprentices follow a strict curriculum and are provided with ongoing professional development education and supervision.

Douglas Scott (AM), [email protected]

Storage has a role

I completely agree with Keith Hitchcock in his letter “Could storage be the key? (Your viewlast month).

This was demonstrated at an excellent event titled “Energy Storage and the Role of Hydrogen” by the Engineering, Mathematics, Science and Technology Association on November 17, 2021. These talks are now on YouTube for all to see at /wqLtNbLk6Pk, and

I would recommend a visit and it would be good to hear comments from the government department.

Nick Stevens, [email protected]

The pump storage solution

In response to Keith Hitchcock’s letter (Your view, latest issue), pumped-storage hydropower is another way to create storage with the advantage that the same water can be used over and over again – a renewable resource. Hydroelectric systems can be brought up to full power very quickly. I realize the capital cost can be high, but pumped storage hydroelectric plants can last for many years, require little maintenance, and can be controlled remotely.

Roger R Ball (F), [email protected]

Life before concrete and steel

In Net Zero’s future preview (NCEFeb 2022) there’s the claim that “concrete and steel have been the building materials of choice for civil engineers for centuries”, but I’m not sure if that’s true.

We all know the Romans had concrete because we’ve been told so many times. We also know that the Spaniards made the best steel swords – in Toledo – decades ago, because we were told that too (at least the older engineers will have learned these things when they were in school) .

However, the patent for Portland cement, the basis of modern concrete, was not granted until 1824, almost 200 years ago, and its value and use were not realized until a few years later.

For example, the reinforced concrete theory was developed around 1880 in the United States (Thaddeus Hyatt) and developed in Germany soon after (Wayss & Freytag).

Royal Tweed Bridge, Berwick-on-Tweed: earliest example of a major reinforced concrete structure

Subsequently, the first major use was in bridges such as the Royal Tweed Bridge at Berwick, designed and built by LG Mouchel in the 1920s, although mass concrete bridges had been built before this, mimicking the use of stone.

Steel was produced in limited quantities until 1850, and it was not until the development of the Bessemer process, bringing the price down from £40/t to £7/t, that steel became commercially usable .

Cast and wrought iron were the materials used for buildings and bridges during the Industrial Revolution, with railroad companies being the main users, but iron also found its uses in the shipping industry.

It was not until steel became cheaper, towards the end of the 19th century, that it was more widely exploited, allowing the construction of railway bridges with greater spans over larger obstacles, such as the bridge of the Zambezi in East Africa (1905).

Thus, the claim that concrete and steel have been engineers’ materials of choice for centuries
isn’t entirely true, and in my experience of inspecting bridges, stone or brick bridges were still built to carry highways and railroads over short spans well into the 1920s and 1930.

Alan Mordey (M), [email protected]

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